From the Farmhouse to the Whitehouse: The Christmas Covey Gift

An autumn consumed by personal transition interfered with—well, squashed—any ambitions for bird hunting this season. Thankfully, friends and colleagues have provided tales and pictures of numerous excellent bird hunts for my vicarious fulfillment.

My 2017 ended at Orange Beach, Alabama with parents and siblings, for what is becoming a new family holiday tradition. It’s not Midwestern bird hunting, but it’s still a neat area and a needed change of scenery, with fantastic seafood and no crowds this time of year.

On Christmas Day, I went to Gulf State Park for another long bird walk by myself on the impressive network of trails and boardwalks. The 6,150-acre park protects but provides public access to

Paved trail and boardwalk at Gulf State Park

habitats varying from beach, to inland dunes and swales, to pine forest, as far as 1½ miles inland. The day before, on a different trail, I had seen two medium-sized cottonmouths, and earlier on this walk a fair-size gator greeted walkers and bikers. So when I heard unusual, sustained rustling in the leaves under some brush near a lesser-used trail, I approached cautiously to investigate. Imagine my surprise when a full-size covey of bobwhites exploded from under the brush within 5 feet of me, scattering only a short distance to the ample brushy escape cover!

A network of trails at Gulf State Park provide a view of a variety of habitats.

The covey was only 1 mile by air from the ocean, and the beachfront condominiums were easily visible. I would not have bet a dime on seeing bobwhites in that location. Even though the habitat technically appears suitable, I just assumed the surrounding landscape was too developed and too busy for bobwhites to be able to hang on.

I called the park later and talked with Casey, a staff biologist from Auburn (War Eagle!), who was jazzed to hear my report. She said releases of penned birds are not allowed, and that a persistent population of wild bobwhites can be heard singing all around the park in summer, but that coveys are rarely seen.

When hunting, every single covey of provides a thrilling adrenaline rush; but finding a covey when it is not being sought and is least expected is an extra-special gift. I am banking on my surprise Christmas Covey being an omen for a good 2018!

Shell’s Covert: A Christmas Quail Management Package

Another short but sweet post…

It occurred to me that there are a lot of resources available to people interested in learning more about quail and early-successional habitat management. Many are available electronically and are FREE, but they are scattered across multiple locations. This post compiles links for you (in one document) that will take to you valuable quail management resources. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but these links are some of the best resources in my opinion…and again, for FREE!

Bargain Basement Bobwhites prepared by Private Lands Wildlife Biologist Justin Folks with assistance from our quail team.

NBCI’s Comprehensive Guide to Creating, Improving and Managing Bobwhite Habitat Prepared by staff of various wildlife agencies and NGOs coordinated by NBCI/NBTC.

Bobwhite Basics Prepared by various agency and NGO personnel with assistance from NBCI / NBTC.

Managing Your Pine Forest for Sunlight, Fire and Quail Prepared by the forestry coordinator of NBCI, Steve Chapman, along with the Forestry Sub-committee of NBTC.

Ecology and Management of Oak Woodlands and Savannahs (PB-1812) Prepared by University of Tennessee Extension.

Old Field Management Prepared by UT Extension Dr. Craig Harper and John Gruchy.

Wildlife Considerations When Haying or Grazing Native Warm Season Grasses Prepared by multiple professors from UT Extension.

This selection provides something for nearly everyone in Virginia in settings from oaks, to pines, and from old fields to pastures. Like most things in life, success depends on personal initiative. But sometimes reading is not enough. If you review this literature and you still have questions, that is what our biologists are for. Contact me at or 434-392-8328, and I will connect you with a highly skilled biologist who is dedicated to helping you. The more homework you do before their visit, the more you will benefit from the visit.

Happy Holidays!

Hunting Public Land Quail

By: David Hoover, Small Game Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation

As an avid bird hunter I hunt both public and private lands and have had many quality hunts on both. However, as many of you have likely experienced, hunting quail on public lands is often more challenging. So much so that hunters are often left with the impression there are no quail to be found; even on areas where proven survey techniques have documented good quail populations. Why is this? One of the obvious reasons relates to the fact that public lands generally receive more hunting pressure, which can cause quail to engage in evasive maneuvers not often deployed by their private land brethren. So what is the public lands quail hunter to do? Quail researchers in Kentucky recently investigated quail biology, habitat use, and daily movements on a large wildlife management area managed primarily for quail. What they found regarding quail behavior in relation to hunting pressure may be surprising to many. Some of the more interesting findings included:
  1. Bird dogs were 8.6 times more likely to find pen-raised quail than wild birds.
  2. Skilled dogs and hunters found only 29% of wild coveys on the management area.
  3. Wild quail ran from hunters in herbaceous cover and held in shrubby cover, letting hunters pass by.
  4. Most of the year, quail were found in open herbaceous vegetation within 40 yards of shrubby cover.
  5. During winter, distance to shrubby cover was generally less than 25 yards.
  6. Quail spent very little time in food plots.
Simple tips for improving success when hunting public land quail include:
  1. Trusting your dog – when dogs get birdy but don’t find anything, slow down and circle back through the area. Birds are likely there, but have moved in response to the dogs.
  2. Maintaining close spacing between hunters to minimize birds slipping through.
  3. Hunting no more than 50 yards from shrubby cover.
  4. When you flush fewer than 4 birds, don’t give up, the rest of the covey is likely close by.
  5. More dogs equals greater success.
  6. Slow down and hunt cover thoroughly.
Public land quail hunting is challenging; however, it can be rewarding with the right attitude and approach. For more information on hunting quail on public lands in Missouri, visit the Department’s quail page.  To view a summary report of the Kentucky study referenced, visit the Peabody WMA Quail report.

This article was syndicated from MOre Quail Blog Updates.

Conservation Need for Bobwhites

This fall, the US Geological Survey released a summary analysis of the 2015 vs 2005 lists of state “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” (SGCN) as depicted in all the State Wildlife Action Plans

( ). Predictably, I went straight to bobwhites. The first point I noticed from the USGS summary is that bobwhites are the 28th most-frequently-listed SGCN in the nation, out of 657 total SGCNs. Second, bobwhites are the 3rd-most-frequently-listed game species, behind king rail and American woodcock.

This simple spreadsheet shows how states listed bobwhites in 2005 (when the NBCI was still new) compared with 2015. Some of the state-by-state findings are interesting:

Bobwhites as SGCN

1. NBCI states that do not list bobwhites at all:
Alabama, Indiana
2. NBCI states that added bobwhites in 2015:
Missouri, Tennessee
3. NBCI states that dropped bobwhites in 2015:
Nebraska, Pennsylvania
4. Non-NBCI states that listed bobwhites both years:
District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin
5. Non-NBCI states that added bobwhites in 2015:
6. Non-NBCI states that dropped bobwhites in 2015:
Connecticut, Michigan, Rhode Island
7. # of States listing bobwhites in 2005: 28
# of States listing bobwhites in 2015: 26

From follow-up conversations and emails, I’ve learned that Indiana subsequently has administratively acted and recently approved adding bobwhites as a SGCN. Alabama considers bobwhites to be of “moderate” conservation concern, thus not in enough trouble to warrant SGCN status. Missouri and Tennessee added bobwhites in their revised 2015 plan after determining it was legitimate for game species to be designated as SGCNs. Pennsylvania dropped bobwhites in 2015 after officially determining the species was already extirpated statewide in the wild. In Nebraska, bobwhites are doing comparatively well statewide.

The attention to bobwhites from eight states that are not participants in the NBCI is interesting and a bit perplexing. NBCI has approached at least four of those states in recent years about joining the Initiative, without success; the five that still list bobwhites as a SGCN seem not to be concerned enough to participate in the NBCI. The obvious question about the three states that removed bobwhites in 2015 is whether the species has been extirpated in those states, too, but no formal declaration has been made.

Native Grass Gazette: ‘Natives First’ Policy for Farm Bill Makes First Leap Forward

Native vegetation filters more nutrients and coarse sediments from runoff than introduced grasses.

“Adoption of Natives First by USDA could be the single most important development in restoring bobwhites and declining grassland birds across their ranges. Establishing a native vegetation standard for public conservation money spent by USDA would be the game changer that finally tilts the playing field in favor of bobwhites and many other declining species on private lands.”

— Don McKenzie, Director, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative

Natives First, the NBCI-led proposal to establish a native vegetation standard for the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill, took a significant leap forward recently. A letter from 20 national hunting organizations was delivered to Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and other key congressional offices of Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees expressing support for a native plant standard in the Farm Bill. An excerpt from the letter reads:

“To help restore declining upland game birds and other wildlife we propose that the Farm Bill direct USDA to adopt a standard for native vegetation that would apply to private conservation and

working lands, where feasible and appropriate. Such a standard should:
• be voluntary and non-regulatory;
• promote the adoption and use of native plants for most purposes;
• allow flexibility for using selected non-aggressive introduced plants that do provide habitat benefits; and
• prioritize financial assistance for native plants in new USDA program enrollments.”

Native warm-season grasses provide excellent summer forage.

The sportsmen’s organizations were joined in their support by 21 other NGOs, private enterprise and industry organizations (see list below). Senator Bennet is drafting a grasslands marker bill to be introduced as part of the Farm Bill discussion. The letter was followed by calls with Senator Bennet’s office and staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee in which NBCI staff discussed the intent of the proposal and answered questions about why native vegetation was preferable over introduced species. At the request of the Senate Ag Committee staff we shared the Native Vegetation Advantage documents: Overview; Water, Soil and Air; Forage and Biomass; and Wildlife. In addition to Senator Bennet and the Senate Agriculture Committee staff, we are also sharing the letter with House Agriculture Committee staff and all agriculture staff of members that serve on the Agriculture Committees.

Drexel Atkisson, NRCS, explains “crumbly” soil under native vegetation indicates healthy soil.

Of course, this is only the first step of a long journey to passage of the Farm Bill. Why is it important that preferential treatment of native vegetation become part of the next Farm Bill? One of the answers is to reverse the decline of grassland birds and pollinators, which is inextricably tied to the quality of grassland habitat. Another answer is that funding in the Farm Bill has the ability to create landscape-scale change impossible through any other means.

For example, in the years 2009 through 2014 the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) enrolled an average of nearly 1.9 million acres annually. In 2014, it is estimated that 66% of the EQIP acres (1.25 million) were enrolled in introduced vegetation. While those enrollments do provide some soil conservation benefits, it is well documented that native vegetation can provide at the very least, equal soil conservation benefit but BETTER soil health, air quality and wildlife benefits. For all those additional benefits it then becomes an economic argument. Native vegetative cover provides more bang for your buck. It is the better taxpayer benefit.


In these early stages of the formulation and foundation of the next Farm Bill it is important that we garner bigger and broader support for the Natives First concept. Quickly.
That’s where YOU come in! Help us spread the word and build support! Help us educate! Many in the ag community are reluctant to support native vegetation simply because they are uneducated about its many benefits above and beyond those of introduced species. Others are under the misconception that all grasses are the same and don’t recognize the differences. Public education, Congressional education, industry education and institution education is needed.

We need your help. Please join the Natives First Coalition at: Utilize the Native Vegetation Advantage documents NBCI has made available for your use (Overview; Water, Soil and Air; Forage and Biomass; and Wildlife). You can help spread the word about the benefits of Natives First through whatever communication platforms you have available, whether a website, a blog, a Twitter account, email “action alerts,” etc.

Please become an active participant and join with the following organizations to support Natives First, a native vegetation standard in the Farm Bill:

American Bird Conservancy
American Woodcock Society 
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Bamert Seed Company
Boone & Crockett Club
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Dan Hill

Ernst Conservation Seeds
Izaak Walton League of America
Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition
Missouri Prairie Foundation
National Association of Forest Service Retirees
National Association of Invasive Plant Councils
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
National Wild Turkey Federation
National Wildlife Federation
North American Butterfly Association
North American Grouse Partnership
Oklahoma Invasive Plant Council
Park Cities Quail
Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever
Placedo Prairie

Prairie Moon Nursery
Quail Coalition
Quail and Upland Game Alliance
Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation
Quality Deer Management Association
Roundstone Seed
Ruffed Grouse Society
South Carolina Native Plant Society
Tennessee Native Plant Society
Tennessee Naturalist Program
Texas Wildlife Association
The Nature Conservancy
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
The Pollinator Partnership
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance
Wild Sheep Foundation
Wildlife Forever
Wildlife Management Institute
Wildlife Mississippi